Sunday, 14 September 2008

Cranford: Humility and Humour.

I am feeling somewhat emotionally battered this morning(Sunday).

For the past three evenings we have watched the BBC series, Cranford. A made for TV 5 part drama production based on 3 books written by Elizabeth Gaskell set in 1842-3.

It is superb. A top quality production made as only the BBC working at its very best can achieve. From the glorious attention to period detail in everything from the sets to the sound to the camera work.With a world class cast, Judi Dench, Julia MacKenzie, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon. It's gentle, witty but oh so intelligent script and the extraordinary sense of contemporary relevance make it a joy to watch.

So why so emotionally battered? It is certainly a tear jerker and skillfully manipulates all the tricks of the entertainment industries arsenal but there is no great denouement, no 'satori' moment to the production.

What it did for me was transport me back to the age of 15, a rather awkward schoolgirl sat in a classroom that brimmed with a history that was totally irrelevant to me. I am an old girl of NLCS, that's the North London Collegiate School for Girls if you want the complete mouthful!

The North London Collegiate School was founded by pioneering girls' educator Frances Mary Buss in 1850 (eight years after the period of Cranford) It is generally recognised as the first ambitious girls' school in the United Kingdom, as it was the first to offer girls the same educational opportunities as boys.

Old girls range from Marie Stopes, the pioneer for birth control for women to Rachel Weisz the Oscar winning actress.

I hated my time at the school! I felt like an outsider. I came from a non-intellectual family, there was nobody at home to guide my thinking, answer my questions. Imagine being dumped down into a seething mass of girls, all supposedly chosen for their brain power to take forward the challenge of forging new heights of achievements for woman. The school counted amongst its alumni the first woman doctor in Britain and countless other 'firsts'. Where was I to fit it? Truth is I didn't.

I didn't begin to understand the schools ethos and agenda. The emphasis on the ability of women, the struggle for emancipation and the worship at the altar of intellectual achievement left me cold.The opportunity I was being given went straight over my head, what a waste.

So, from the age of 11, I had simply survived in this alien environment. Kept my head down, done the minimum to get by. Inside I felt lost and disappointed. Betrayed by the adults who were all so impressed when I was proudly introduced as ' a North London Girl'. Like right! What was so impressive about this load of over achieving egg heads? I knew I shouldn't be there...

So to get back to the story... On the morning of one Summer Term out were handed the little red books that we were going to read over the ensuing weeks, yes it was Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Boring!

So much so that until I saw the series advertised on Amazon I had completely forgotten that I had ever read the thing.I bought it after deleting it a number of times from my Amazon 'shopping basket'. Turned off by the youthful experience and yet curious that the BBC Drama department, whose work I greatly admire, had thought it worthwhile.

Well stand back for the awed amazement that I have been experiencing over the past few days. At the end of episode one I was a wreck, crying and laughing with not only the power of the film but with the terrible realization that all those years ago I had been unable to comprehend the message of the book. Had been totally ignorant of the underlying themes of women's power, educations liberation and female strength. I felt betrayed by my teachers, angry at my stupidity and disappointed that it had all passed me by.

What else have I missed in the past 30 years? What else have I failed to understand and see? Rather too much I fear!

I highly recommend the series. If you get an opportunity do watch it, it is a gem. The 'making of feature' is great. Dame Judi Dench talks of getting her copy of the 'red book' whilst at school, must have been the same edition! Julia MacKenzie sums Cranford up in just two words; humility and humour.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Hi Gerry,

I stumbled on this post by happenstance. I enjoyed reading your thoughts/memories of school, on the awkwardness of becoming an adult, and of wishing that one could have done more with the opportunities that were available. Rings bells with me as well; but oddly all-in-all I'm not unhappy with where I am now and I suspect that is true for you as well.

Thank you for writing this.